Yes! You can put paper towels in an air fryer. But why would you want to? There are actually a lot of reasons for this. One reason is clean up time. Did you know that if you were to do a really good job cleaning out your air fryer basket after cooking at high heat (like 350°F+), it would be very difficult to scrub off all the burnt bits of food? The burnt bits will fall off eventually, but it takes a lot of elbow grease to clean. There are some people who really like doing this kind of hard work (they’re called masochists), but for most people with busy lives, I don’t think they want to spend that much time cleaning up their appliances.
So what can you do about this problem? One solution is using paper towels in the air fryer! When cooking at high heat with paper towel (below picture on left), there isn’t a big mess to clean up after cooking because the paper towel catches all the food particles and absorbs them before they have a chance to stick onto your air fryer basket or pan. If you’re air frying a large amount of food, you can even wrap the paper towel around the foods so that they absorb all the oil.
Not only is clean up easier, but you will also get more crispy bits if you use paper towels in your air fryer! If you were to find experimentally which is better at getting crispy chicken skin… an actual cooking rack or using paper towels on a pan, I would bet my money on using paper towels any day of the week. Why? Well let me tell you that if there’s no space between each piece of food (like with cooking racks that makes it hard for air to circulate and get in-between), then all the hot air touches every part of your food and this will make your food get crispy faster.
For anyone that has done a lot of deep frying before, you know that there’s a big skill to “knowing when your oil is ready”. There are two signs to look for: one, if you throw a piece of food in the pan and it starts bubbling immediately, then this means your oil is too hot. You need to wait for the bubbling action to die down before putting your food in the pan because you don’t want it to burn on the exterior before being cooked inside. Second sign, once you put all your foods into the pan (no matter how cold they were when you put them in), make sure they rise up in temperature slowly until they reach an optimum cooking temperature (which is around 300°F for most foods). If your oil was really hot, this second sign takes longer to appear. For example, if you put some vegetables in the pan and they went straight up to 400°F right off the bat (because of the smoking hot oil), then it’s going to burn that nice coating on your food before its inside cooks.
So what does this have to do with using paper towels? Well when you use paper towels in your air fryer basket or pan, they stop all kinds of bubbling from happening because the paper absorbs all the excess oil from your food! So not only will you get a more even browning of both sides but also less burnt food! This is perfect for cooking fried chicken, french fries (if you like them soft on the inside and crispy on the outside), homemade potato chips, Chinese “jellyfish”, etc.
Another advantage of using paper towels is that food will cook faster if you put down a layer of paper towel in your air fryer basket or pan! Why? Well its because the steam has to travel through two sheets of paper towels before it reaches your food. You can test this out yourself at home by putting an extra sheet of kitchen roll tissue over your fish when cooking it in the oven. The photo below was taken exactly one minute after it was put into the oven. The white film you see is all water droplets that has not yet evaporated into steam, showing just how much steam there is before it gets to the food.
Using paper towels in your air fryer basket or pan can increase its lifespan by preventing rusting! It’s all about the oil… if you don’t let excess oil stay in contact with your air fryer basket or pan, then rust won’t form as quickly. One of the reasons why food like chicken wings stick onto many people’s air fryers is because their air fryers are not seasoned well enough yet (ie: lack amounts of grease and fat to lubricate metal). If you’re using paper towel in your air frying, this will stop any excess grease from getting into the cracks and crevasses that cause rust!